Two for the price of one: Mazda's revolutionary Skyactiv-X 'petrol/diesel' engine hits the road
First Drive in Sofia: Mazda Skyactiv- x
The car with a revolutionary engine that combines the best of petrol and diesel has just gone on sale in Ireland.
Mazda calls the technology Skyactiv-X and it is now in the '3' hatch and saloon. It will cost from €30,495 for both body styles.
I've already driven the '3' diesel in Ireland so this first drive in Bulgaria was all about the engine and its fascinating technology.
As you know a petrol engine uses a spark to ignite the air-fuel mixture in the cylinder. A diesel compresses the mix so that it explodes. Put the two together and, with Skyactiv-X, you get the mixture being burned under high pressure and with a spark.
They claim it is the world's first production petrol engine to use diesel compression technology. In doing so the two-litre engine develops 180PS - and you don't get the usual levels of NOx for which diesel is being blamed.
It has the highest compression ratio (16.3:1 v the normal 14.7:1) for a production petrol engine. Its lean burn ability is claimed to generate a 20pc reduction in fuel use and lower emissions. On my drive I'm afraid the fuel economy wasn't great (8.2l/100km) but colleagues reported 4.5l/100km - which is what Mazda officially claims. It just goes to show that fuel economy, and low emissions, are often a major function of how you drive. We didn't exactly flog it during slow traffic, motorway driving and mountain roads around Sofia.
I'm due to drive it in Ireland next week, so we'll see how the figures stack up then.
There is no arguing with the official numbers. They show that the new engine, by using the spark-controlled compression ignition technology (SCCI), pegs emissions to 102g/km for the saloon (127g/km WLTP) and one gramme more for the hatch; road tax is €190 for both.
Essentially, air and fuel are compressed to a high level. The spark plug starts a small fireball that increases the temperature. That's where you get greater fuel efficiency and a fall-off in NOx.
This car also has a 24V mild-hybrid system that recycles recovered kinetic energy.
On first view, the price looks to be €4,000 or so more expensive than its conventional equivalent. But the gap narrows when you consider it comes in at a higher spec level. And surely the technology has to be worth a premium?
Still, I have to ask: how many people will feel it is worth €30,000? We'll have to wait and see.
There are several trim levels: GS Sport, GS-L Sport, GT Sport and Platinum Sport. Add around €2,000/€2,500 for automatic transmission.
Cars with Skyactiv-X technology are highlighted by 18in aluminium bright alloys on the saloon and metallic black on the hatch.
The saloon is a near-totally different car - only the bonnet and windscreen are similar to the hatch. The wheelbase is the same but the saloon is 200mm longer and has a 444-litre boot.
The Skyactiv-X hatch I drove was quiet and smooth over poor roads and at reasonable speeds but pulling power was not good in fifth or sixth gear at 80kmh/90kmh. Indeed it felt dead flat at times.
Yet I keep coming back to the implications and relevance of the operation. Mazda experts see it as having a key role to play on the myriad roads to the full-electric era.
Cost was helped by the fact they didn't have to radically change the existing engine - the addition of pressure sensors in the cylinders was a significant inclusion.
To get Skyactiv-X to where it wanted, Mazda aimed for:
1. Good response: on my drive it was poor at higher revs but OK when I worked the gears.
2. Free-revving: yes, it was.
3. Smoothness: there was no real harshness or engine noise at high revs.
4. Better economy: a work in progress for me on that I think.
Mazda deserves praise for the breakthrough.
But I'll have to drive it at length in Ireland to see if the concept meets expectations on fuel consumption.